Maths-for-Life

Students re-sitting GCSE mathematics are more likely to be disengaged, and to have problems with key concepts. Maths-for-Life teaches these concepts through problems designed to re-engage learners and cement their understanding of fundamental areas. It aims to make GCSE resit classes more student-centred, focusing on problem-solving and discussion through approaches such as dialogic teaching.

The resources were initially tested 10 years ago in post-16 settings, with government funding (and distributed by the Standards Unit). Examples of tasks include cards showing different ways of representing algebraic functions (e.g., 2(n+3) and (2n+6) and as diagrams), with students expected to work together to find matching sets and explain their reasoning to each other. The problems are carefully designed to help teachers with their diagnostic and formative assessment practices, and to improve pupils’ mathematical understanding and reasoning.

The resources exist, but will be updated. They need to be accompanied by support for teachers to ensure the practices are used effectively. In the development year, the University of Nottingham will work with 15 mathematics teachers to update the approach and materials. These teachers will, in the second year, deliver collaborative professional development cycles to participant teachers in the trial. 100 providers will be recruited for the second year and randomised into intervention and control groups.

The training will focus on five pedagogical approaches and five key mathematics topics. These will be decided in the development year, but will likely include topics that develop number sense and understanding of proportionality, with tasks based on collaborative activities which help identify student’s misconceptions. While training will be focused on individual teachers, we will expect them to share the resources and approaches with other colleagues.

Why are we funding it?

This project has been funded as part of joint initiative with J.P. Morgan to explore how to improve outcomes for disadvantaged 16-18 year old learners without a C or above in GCSE English or mathematics. You can read more about this partnership here.

The materials were developed and researched by Malcolm Swan at the University of Nottingham. The key study was not a randomised controlled trial, but compared groups of GCSE retake students who received “many”, “few” or none of the lessons in 44 colleges around 2004. It reported a difference on algebra tests between those who received “many” of the lessons to those who had received none of the lessons, with an effect size of 0.38. This is likely to be an upwardly-biased estimate, but the paper was one of the few encouraging studies that focused on the right target group that was referenced by the EEF-commissioned literature review which informed this funding round. The resources have been adapted for younger students and evaluated in the USA as a matched-controlled study, which found an effect size of 0.13 standard deviations (equivalent to +2 months’ additional progress).

How are we evaluating it?

A team led by Michael Sanders at the Behavioural Insights Team has been appointed as the independent evaluator.

The first year will be a formative pilot, with a small group of teachers focusing on developing the content and structure of the training. This will not be a full pilot, but the teachers will be expected to feedback on the feasibility of the model. BIT will collect independent assessments on the feasibility of the intervention which will be used to make a decision in Spring 2018 about whether to proceed with a randomised controlled trial.

The full trial would involve approximately 100 providers being recruited and randomised into one of two groups: to either nominate two teachers to participate in the project, or to be in the control group. Settings will be a mix of further education colleges and school sixth forms. Recruitment would take place in spring/summer 2018, with delivery to begin in September 2018.

Outcomes will be collected when the learners sit their GCSEs or other exams in 2019.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in Autumn 2020.